Tag Archives: fashion

In Defense of Ugly

The first week of spring term when students and professors alike blearily stumble back to campus disoriented from the sheer quantity of food and booze they’ve consumed over winter break.  Personally, I’ve always felt that it’s a cruel joke to refer to something that begins in January as “spring” anything, particularly in the midwest, where nothing resembles spring until about May.

However, being back on campus means that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing many an undergrad conversation on a smattering of topics.  A topic recently topping the conversation charts has been the Golden Globe Awards, specifically, what everyone WORE to the Globes.  My interest in award shows is minimal at best, I’ll watch the Oscars for the gowns and the Tonys because duh, but that’s generally all the enthusiasm I can muster.  I only took notice of the Globes discussions because almost everyone had something to say about the awful appearance of Jennifer Lawrence.  This peaked my interest for two reasons: I have a soft spot for J. Law and my litmus test for good fashion is how poorly a garment is received by the masses.  After referencing my googlemachine for images of this “awful” dress I discovered that a lot of the internet had very strong feelings about this dress (they even compared it to the sheet and rope dress from The Little Mermaid).

This may come as no surprise to you, dear reader, but I loved the dress.

The point of this blog post is not to defend J. Law and her dress (I would like that job though) but rather to offer my comments on a larger cultural trend.  One of the words most frequently used in reference to the offending garment is “ugly” as in, “that was such an ugly dress.”  This, then, is the real point of my blog, to provide a brief (and very biased) defense of “ugly.”

Quick etymology lesson: Ugly is a rather unusual word because it’s formed from Norse root words meaning “fear” or “dread.”  I’m also rather partial to the softened 14th century definition of “ugly” as, “very unpleasant to look at.”  More often than not, it seems to me (and people far smarter than I articulate this in greater detail) that fear is deeply connected to uncertainty or the unknown; I believe it was Andrew Smith who said “People fear what they do not understand.”

Stay with me here, so when something is deemed “ugly” it really means that the looker does not understand what it is they are looking at.  “Ugly” then becomes a fascinating space to occupy particularly in contrast to its antonym; beauty.  “Beauty” refers to “physical attractiveness” and also “goodness and courtesy” and, more importantly, “beauty” is easily understood.  “Beauty” is a socially agreed upon status conferred on bodies etc that are both easily legible and palatable.  For me, “ugly” is much more interesting because it is so hard to pin down.  It comes from a place of illegibility that makes us culturally uncomfortable and so we reach for somewhere to put it.  I’m a proponent of what is commonly referred to as “man repellent fashion” or “ugly fashion” which is so called because of its bawdy, ostentatious style that is somehow unattractive to men?  I mean, my fiance digs it so joke’s on you.  It’s difficult to fully summarize this aesthetic, think: loud prints, non-normative lines and shapes, some of it could even be considered “unflattering” but it is certainly never boring or safe.  As a bonus, if you do it right, people will be talking about how “ugly” your outfit was years after they’ve forgotten about the millionth beautiful little black dress.

So come on, be ugly with me.



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Why “this stuff” matters to me

**note: this blog is from a series written for a graduate class at Roosevelt University**

The title of this blog references one of my favorite scenes from the 2006 fashion film The Devil Wears Prada. In this scene Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) fails to see the difference between similar looking belts and remarks, “You know, I’m still learning about all this stuff” which elicits a choice monologue from  Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) about the importance of “this stuff”.  As someone who is very interested in fashion and has a keen sense of personal style I have often been asked why this stuff matters. What’s the point of the dog-and-pony-show we call fashion?  While I certainly can’t speak for every fashionista in the history of time, I can lay out my perspective.  And it goes something like this:

My connection to style and dress transcends what is trending at American Apparel or Forever 21, it’s much bigger than looking “hip”.

My dress says what my words can’t.

You see, I’m not exactly the most expressive person in the world.  I don’t have a lot of “feelings” persay, and I’m terribly awkward at being a person.  So my dress compensates for all the things I lack.  For example, a close friend lost her father a few months ago and I didn’t know what to say.  Instead of struggling to come up with some cliche’ about it getting better or him looking down on her, I dressed for her.  I wore a black Kennar pencil skirt, black VeraWang sweater, nylons, sleek black pumps, and a mourning broach from my collection of Victorian hair jewelry.  It was a very respectable, put-together look, designed to expresses all the condolences, and love, and things I couldn’t say.

Dressing for someone is not only reserved for somber occasions, but for joyous ones too.  A close friend of mine got married last fall and because I’m terrible at wedding toasts, and don’t feel like I should be imparting words of relationship wisdom, I dressed for her and her new husband.

I wore that dress with black tights and leopard print Steve Madden slingbacks.  Where many people I know dread weddings because they have to dress up and wear uncomfortable shoes, I enjoyed searching for this dress and designing just the right look.  It said all the things I didn’t know how to say.

I do not mean to suggest that I have a deep spiritual relationship with each item of clothing in my wardrobe. I own a bunch of ratty t-shirts and workout gear that is purely there for utility.  But the pieces that matter: the skirt I wore in my first derby bout, the stockings that made me invincible, the sweater that met Michael Kimmel.  Wearing those pieces provides me with a silent reminder of all the things I felt, and wished I could have said at a specific time or event.  To some extent I feel that my memoirs are in my clothes, written in threads and buttons and clasps and heels.

I know many people will be rolling their eyes and exasperatedly remarking “come on!” when they read this explanation and that’s okay.  I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone is as connected to their wardrobe as I am.  But in a society that values disposable fashion, where staying “stylish” can mean becoming a fashion lemming, I think it is important to communicate that not all fashionistas are blind followers.  My only regret is that I seem to be running out of closet space…



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